Poverty will never be reduced until countries confront discrimination against women, says the latest United Nations State of the World Population Report. “We cannot make poverty history until we stop violence against women and girls,” the U.N. Population Fund’s executive director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, said in releasing the report. “We cannot make poverty history," she said, "until women enjoy their full social, cultural, economic and political rights.”
Violence and discrimination against women, said the U.N. report, have long been shrouded in a culture of silence. In Egypt, for example, ninety-four percent of women surveyed thought it was acceptable to be beaten by the men in their family, as did ninety-one percent in Zambia, and ninety percent in Ethiopia.
Ignorance and illiteracy make life even more miserable for women and girls. More than half a million women die annually from preventable pregnancy-related causes. Half of the forty-million people infected with H-I-V/AIDS around the world are women. In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up a majority of those infected.
Many more girls still lack the education opportunities that are available to boys. Six-hundred-million women around the world are illiterate, compared with some three-hundred-million men. The U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, has written that “No country can prosper when women’s voices are silenced. . . .and their rights violated.”
The United States has been in the forefront of making the world freer and more prosperous for people around the world. Improving conditions for women is a critical part of this effort. The U.S. is trying to make a difference with approximately fifty-five million dollars announced by President George W. Bush to be used to support women’s justice and empowerment in Africa. This initiative will encourage women in four African countries by strengthening the capacity of legal and educational systems to protect women and girls.
The U.S. government is also contributing fifteen million dollars that will be used to combat violence against women in Darfur, Sudan through increased humanitarian assistance, law enforcement and justice, conflict mitigation, and media programming. In this way, the United States is working, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said, “to enlarge the realm of the possible,” by advancing women's causes across the globe; to help women become full participants in their societies with programs that increase women's political participation and economic opportunities; and to support women and girls' access to education and health care.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.